CEO 75-218 -- December 15, 1975
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
SECRETARY OF STATE DEPARTMENT ACCEPTING EXPENSES FROM ORGANIZATION WHOSE MEMBERS APPEAR BEFORE HIS AGENCY
To: James R. Brindell, General Counsel, Department of Environmental Regulation, Tallahassee
Prepared by: Bonnie Johnson
The Secretary of the State Department of Environmental Regulation may accept, on behalf of the department, expenses for appearances as a speaker or participant at gatherings of the Florida Engineering Society without violating s. 112.313(2). Although individual members of the society may from time to time apply to the department for permits, the society itself is not regulated by D.E.R. Furthermore, the secretary would not personally be accepting the payment of expenses; rather, such moneys would be reimbursed to the department. Inasmuch as such participation is a statutorily mandated responsibility of the secretary, and inasmuch as he reaps no personal profit from the expense reimbursement, there is no violation of the conflicting gifts section of the Code of Ethics.
Would a prohibited conflict of interest exist were Mr. Jay Landers, Secretary of the State Department of Environmental Regulation, to accept, on behalf of the department, expenses for appearances as a speaker or participant at gatherings of the Florida Engineering Society, whose members may apply to D.E.R. for permits on their own behalf or as agents for others?
Your question is answered in the negative.
The applicable section of the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees provides as follows:
CONFLICTING GIFTS. -- No public officer or employee of an agency or candidate for nomination or election shall solicit or accept anything of value to the recipient, including a gift, loan, reward, promise of future employment, favor, or service:
(a) That would cause a reasonably prudent person to be influenced in the discharge of official duties, or
(b) That is based upon any understanding that the vote, official action, or judgment of the public officer, employee, or candidate would be influenced thereby. [Section 112.313(2), F. S., as amended by Ch. 75-208, Laws of Florida.]
Enclosed is a copy of a previous opinion of this commission, CEO 75-21, in which we determined that the acceptance of expenses by a state officer from a group regulated by the officer's agency consciously or unconsciously is likely to affect his impartiality, thereby influencing him in the discharge of official duties. In the instant case, however, Secretary Landers would not personally be accepting the payment of expenses; the expense money would be returned to the department itself rather than to Mr. Landers. Further, the Florida Engineering Society is not regulated by D.E.R. Although individual members of the society may occasionally apply to the department for permits, the group as a whole pays the secretary's expenses in appreciation for his contributions of knowledge, advice, etc. to the organization. Such consultation or participation, you have noted, is deemed to be a legitimate responsibility of the office by s. 403.061(19), (20), (23), and (24), F. S.
Inasmuch as Secretary Landers reaps no personal profit from the speaking engagements described herein, and inasmuch as the group that he contemplates visiting is not subject to the regulation of his agency, we find no violation of the conflicting gifts section of the Code of Ethics.